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The Case Against Klobuchar: Supporters Delegitimize Abuse but Highlight Gender Disparity Issues

In 2019, Senator Amy Klobuchar was accused of abusing her staff while serving in Congress. These allegations arose due to her initial announcement that she will be running for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020.

Klobuchar’s intense work environment has never been a secret; she has had one of the highest staff turnover rates in the Senate. 

Defenders of Klobuchar claim that these reports are sexist, as male senators would unlikely not be chastised for such actions. This is true. Women are held to standards so high that they almost reach the gates of heaven. Male politicians throughout the #metoo movement and throughout history have done truly despicable things without consequences, but that does not absolve Amy Klobuchar of the allegations against her.

There is a difference between the way people view assertive female bosses and dominant male bosses. When looking at the “Worst Boss in Congress” list, Klobuchar is at the top alongside six other female senators. The likelihood that out of twenty-five women in the entire Senate, seven of them are among the worst bosses in the Senate is only 0.003%. I’m not a mathematician, but I did my middle school math equation, and got this tragic result.

The gender disparity in the evaluation of male and female bosses often comes down to the staff’s societal expectations. While working for a demanding man proves that a worker is strong and able to compete in a cutthroat world, working for a demanding woman is seen as dehumanizing. For men, being a devil is something to emulate, but if women do the same, they run the risk of looking like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada

The manner in which journalists report on such actions are also framed in extremely different ways. Strong female bosses are reported on much more frequently, and having a demanding female bosses is seen as shameful, while surviving working for a demanding male boss is something to be admired. 

This trope plays into society’s enhanced watch over females — any stumble is immediately and harshly criticized. Under the microscope in which women are viewed, one must acknowledge that women in politics are held to a far higher standard than men, putting an extra burden among female bosses. 

As women, we live under the thumb of a society that tells us we are inferior and should be passive at all costs. When a woman refuses to conform, they are often told that they are too bossy or demanding. These critiques are almost always based in gender stereotypes and expectations. In the workforce, reports against female bosses come much more frequently and severely towards female bosses for offenses that are usually not reported regarding male bosses. 

When examining Klobuchar’s alleged offenses, one can see that at least some of the complaints are a result of her gender. Many staffers stated that Senator Klobuchar was too harsh about mistakes made and wanted all minor details to check out. As a staff member of someone serving in Congress, one is expected to make few mistakes and look out for details that are not followed as Congress makes the decisions that impact people’s everyday lives. Congress should be hard to work for. While working for Congress members should not result in an abusive environment, it should be a difficult job due to the high stakes. 

Look at the statistic mentioned earlier. Women in Congress are seen as much harder to work for and receive many complaints, but men are not seen as irrational bosses at a comparable rate. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of Congress members are seen as “hard to work for.” 

Especially for a woman like Klobuchar, who is prided on her “Minnesota nice” and Midwestern charm, there is an added layer of pressure. Both male and female senators will yell, but when you are viewed as a cookie-baking wife and mother, your yelling seems harsh instead of productive.Women who receive multiple complaints about being harsh and irrational face enormous damage to their reputation; men do not have to worry about such consequences.

Looking at someone like Bernie Sanders, one cannot even dispute the discrepancy between an assertive woman and a brash man. Bernie loves to yell to the extent that he was coached to quiet himself down during debates and speeches, to much avail. When Bernie constantly interrupted Hillary during the 2016 presidential debates, she just sat there and took it, because women are supposed to stay silent. When, probably unable to take it anymore, she interrupted him one time, he lifted his hand at her and yelled, “Excuse me, I’m talking.” This was in bad taste, but Bernie’s interruptions were not the public news that they should have been. Instead, Saturday Night Live parodied the incident in a loving manner, which only intensified the emotions of people feeling the Bern. 

Former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is known for regularly dropping the f-bomb. He has openly stated that his staff should stop planning to attend the event; instead, they should work “25/8.” Emanuel also demanded his staffers to “develop a thick skin” while working for him. Instead of being seen as an exploitative boss, people referred to him as having a big personality, to the point that Barack Obama joked about it openly. Men like Emanuel and Sanders are men who demand to be respected. If someone like them happens to be a woman, she is asking for public shame.

Female politicians are not allowed to interrupt or demand that their workers be loyal and put in “25/8.” Bill Clinton was known to have such a bad temper that his staffers would refer to his fits as “purple rage.” Imagine what would happen if a female politician was known to have “purple rage”: she would be labeled as irrational and insane. Such a woman would be seen as too unstable and would stand no chance at reelection. 

Hillary Clinton had to present herself as so sterile that people made fun of her for having no personality. There is no in between for female politicians: they are either bland or unhinged. Hillary had a billion eyes on her constantly watching for any missteps, including something as minor as her fashion. Men would never face scrutiny for that.

Amy Klobuchar might not have the pristine tact of Hillary Clinton, but as she begins to compete for the Democratic presidential nomination, the billion eyes that watched Hillary Clinton like a hawk are now trained on her. It has to be noted that while some of the reports are rooted in sexism, many hold validity and cannot be legitimized. While placing high expectations on her staffers is understandable, the dehumanization, distrust, and demonization that Klobuchar’s staff face cannot be ignored. The truth is, many of Klobuchar’s actions are flat-out abusive.

When people say Klobuchar is getting everything she deserves, they are not wrong, but by dismissing all of the allegations against her as sexist, Klobuchar’s defenders are claiming that if one allegation is unjust, all of them are. The Wall Street Journal claimed that perhaps the reason Klobuchar has one of the highest rates of staff turnover is because she is “simply less tolerant of millennial demands.” If some of these reports are brushed off as just “millennial demands” for a cushy economy, I question the horrible abuses that went on in the baby-boomer economy. 

The following allegations are an example of her abusive behavior. When bringing a salad from the airport to Senator Klobuchar’s plane, a staffer forgot to obtain a fork, and there were none aboard the plane. Klobuchar immediately began to scream at her staffer for their incompetence, took a comb out of her bag and, in a bizarre twist, used it as a substitute for the fork and ate her salad. What elevates her behavior from rude to abusive is that after she used the comb, she demanded that her staffer clean it. I don’t know why Klobchar would ever eat her salad with a comb or want to use the comb to brush her hair after using it as a utensil, but she decided that the staffer who forgot the fork in the first place would be the one to remove the lettuce and dressing from the comb. 

Klobuchar also transferred her paranoia and desire to climb the political ladder to her staffers. She sent nasty emails blaming her staff for her shortcomings and wanted to start an investigation about an in-house mole. If aides wanted to leave Klobuchar, they were threatened with receiving terrible recommendations from her, ruining their chances of ever obtaining a decent job again. 

Klobuchar had the audacity to call for an inquisition into her staff and defined demands that they partake in odd sanitary tasks as “high expectations.” While she admitted that she often pushed her staff too hard, she said it in a light tone. 

The Senator has also been known to utilize the United States’ lack of proper paid maternity leave policy to her own advantage, dehumanizing her staffers in the process. For her office, any staffer on maternity leave, they must stay in the office for three times as many weeks as they took off. Moreover, demanding the workers to pay back for the weeks they were on maternity leave, which is unjust and frankly should be illegal. 

Klobuchar runs an office where no one is allowed to break form, which is identical to the scrutiny she faces as a female politician. Shouldn’t someone subjugated to such stringent restrictions be more understanding to people unable to be perfect at every moment? Apparently not; she seems to lack flexibility and understanding. On a morning where the vast majority of the staff was running late (the cause is unconfirmed, but this was in Minnesota, so it was likely due to weather), Klobuchar behaved like a middle school hall monitor and wrote out late passes and put them on every empty desk. One of the members of the adult staff thought it was funny and laughed, but Klobuchar did not share their perspective. She called the staffer into her office for a meeting, and when it concluded, the staffer left the room in tears. Klobuchar also has a proven violent streak. While she claims to have not done so intentionally, Senator Klobuchar hit one of her aides with a binder in a fit of rage. Intention doesn’t matter in this case: nothing says a healthy work environment like having a binder thrown at your head. 

In recent years, there has been some pushback towards male politicians as well for promulgating abusive work environments, albeit not to the same extent as the public shaming that their female counterparts have received. Politicians like Brad Sherman, Blake Farenthold, Jesse Young have faced investigations about abusing their staffers in the workplace. Congressman Tim Murphy’s office was even described as resembling the “Reign of Terror” in France, a witch hunt that none of his staffers signed up for. In this new age of keeping politicians, no matter their gender, accountable, we cannot relinquish people from blame due to their gender. There is a skew that turns people against women leaders, but as a society, we cannot forgive and forget abuse — that is how we have ended up in a situation where male politicians are able to create abusive environments without consequences.

We also cannot blend abuse with modernism. Being a so called strong, independent woman — the type of #GirlBoss leader that Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso champions is great and all, but there is a distinction between being assertive and abusive. We need to stop looking to this regressive model as the paragon of being an empowered woman. Just because a woman does something, we do not need to call it a triumph. Achievements are not success if they are created by pushing other women down. 

The allegations against Amy Klobuchar might have become public and intensified due to her gender, but that does not wash away her sins. There is a difference between being a strong boss and being an abusive boss, and Klobuchar falls into the latter category. 

There are thousands of people brushing off legitimate criticism of Klobuchar’s conduct. In doing so, they are delegitimizing the trauma to which she has subjected her staffers, thereby normalizing this sort of abuse for both male and female politicians. 

Elizabeth Karpen

Columbia Barnard '22

Lizzie Karpen is a junior at Barnard College, the most fuego of women’s colleges, studying Political Science and English with a concentration in Film. To argue with her very unpopular opinions, send her a message at esk2168@barnard.edu or @lizziekarpen on Instagram and Twitter.
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